The launch is a short period of time at the beginning of a lesson that prepares students to explore the lesson’s learning goal(s) during the investigation period that follows. This part of the lesson is devoted to three key activities: first, building students’ background knowledge1 regarding the learning goal; second, ensuring that students have a sufficient grasp of the lesson’s ideas and content that they will be successful during the more independent investigation; and third, ensuring that students understand the scope of the investigation they are about to begin.

Because OAUC students generally have significant gaps in their working schema (background knowledge), strategic decisions about what to focus on during the lesson launch are critical: an emphasis on contentspecific big ideas and ways of thinking, paired with the FEI’s learning strategies are typically most effective at facilitating student independence There are many different techniques and activities for building students’ background knowledge, many of which can be used in any of the disciplines.2 The literacy practice of “read1 2

How to Build Students’ Background Knowledge 1. Encourage them to make connections to their own experience and prior knowledge and the new ideas to be explored in the lesson. 2. Ask them to “wonder” about one of the big ideas that will be explored that day. 3. Provide them with a piece of new information that will deepen their overall understanding of the material to be studied that day.

See Chapter 1 of the TSI Handbook (p. 16) for a description of building background. There are important modifications to make in math classrooms because the nature of “text” is so different.

aloud/think-aloud,”3 is one of the most powerful ways to launch a lesson. Here, the teacher builds students’ background knowledge by modeling how she thinks about a specific concept and/or learning strategy, and how she applies the learning strategy to analyze, evaluate and synthesize ideas. In this way, she provides students with a peek into the metacognitive narrative that strong academic readers construct as they engage with complex material. In our work, we encourage teachers to deeply study the “read-aloud/think-aloud,” in order to develop a strong capacity to model their own metacognitive narratives to students (and then to teach students to notice and develop theirs). Though strong metacognitive skills are at the heart of all independent learning they are rarely explicitly taught

“I begin to read chapter 3 with students. As I read, I pause and model the questions I have. I begin with an "understand" (thin) question and then form a more “evaluative” (thick) question. I ask students to notice what is different about those two questions. Why are they different? What do they do differently for us as readers?  

ELA Read-Aloud/Think-Aloud

Understand-"I wonder how the Little Prince ended up on Earth?" (Note to self: Make sure students notice that the answer to this question can be found in the book and it is what we might call a "thin" or "clarifying" question.)  

Evaluate-"The narrator mentions that he wants us to read his book 'carefully'...What does he mean by this? What does it mean to read a book like this carefully? Does this have something to do with how the book is written?" (Note to self: Help students see that this is a "thicker" question because I have to answer it through inferring, and making connections to my background knowledge. The answer is more “in-between the lines.”  

--Michael Wolach’s Lesson on Questioning,

in high school, as few teachers have been trained to make this the centerpiece of their instruction. Organizing the FEI’s lesson launch around a “read-aloud/think-aloud” provides opportunities for students and teachers alike to become more practiced in this arena, as they become more accustomed to identifying what strategic learning looks and feels like. In Michael’s ELA lesson on using questions to explore the values and beliefs of characters in The Little Prince, he uses the lesson launch to help students differentiate between lower-order questions that clarify confusions and support remembering, summarizing and understanding texts at the literal level (often called “thin” questions in literacy classrooms), and higher-order questions that support analytic and evaluative textbased work (“thick” questions) (see inset). During the investigation, students will practice asking both thin and thick questions about the characters in the text, while also completing a meta-analysis by categorizing the questions they ask.


One of the first and best texts written on this subject was authored by Jeffrey Wilhelm in 2002: Improving Comprehension with Think-Aloud Strategies. Scholastic: 2002. Since then, many others have expanded the body of work related to Read-Aloud/Think-aloud Strategies, and districts such as Greece, NY have made it a central literacy practice in their efforts to improve instruction: http://www.greece.k12.ny.us/instruction/ela/612/Reading/Reading%20Strategies/thinkaloud.htm

In addition to the “read-aloud/think-aloud,” lesson launches can also be oriented around “anticipatory activities,”4 designed to preview the big ideas that will be investigated during the main part of the lesson. For example, in preparation to reading Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” students might be asked to complete a survey that explores the nature of friendship. Or, prior to studying polynomials, students might predict what this study will entail given what they know about binomials and trinomials (the concepts as well as the roots and prefixes). Well-designed “anticipatory” activities provide students with enough background knowledge to successfully begin engaging in new material on their own or with their peers. This is clearly visible in Tegan’s unit on Gentrification in Brooklyn, which launches with a set of building-background questions that would more typically be found in a social studies course. • • • • What is gentrification? What do you know about the word “Gentry”? Are the neighborhoods in Brooklyn racially segregated?...What evidence do you have to support your view? Does racial composition in neighborhoods change over time?...Do you have evidence? What might lead the racial composition of a neighborhood to change?

This early effort to build students’ “anticipation” of the material to be studied creates a schematic anchor upon which to build: first, through a deepening understanding of the social justice issues to be explored; and soon thereafter, through a mathematical analysis of Brooklyn data. The lesson launch should always close with a few moments devoted to detailing the task to be completed during the investigation period, using both writing and speaking—and images or other visual cues when possible.5 This ensures that students have access to as much information as possible about what is expected of them, while also making it possible for them to be as independent as possible in the next stage of the lesson.


Extensive “Anticipatory Activities”—such as those used to introduce a difficult novel, or a new science unit--might also become the basis of an investigation. Some of the best work done in this area is by high school teacher Kelly Gallagher in his book Deeper Reading, published by Stenhouse in 2005. Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and others have also provided some wonderful anticipatory activities in their text 50 Content Area Strategies for Adolescent Literacy. Prentice-Hall: 2006. 5 See p 17 in the TSI handbook for further discussion of this method, originally developed by researchers at the SIOP Institute (http://www.siopinstitute.net). Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey have also devoted a book to this topic: Background Knowledge: The Missing Piece of the Comprehension Puzzle. Heineman: 2009.

1. Given the learning goals and strategies I prepared for this lesson, what do I need to teach directly during the launch? 2. What is the best way for me to design the launch (modeling? Read-aloud? Deconstructing an exemplar?...?)? 3. Which concepts/vocabulary words must be directly taught in the launch if the lesson is to be successful? 4. What are my learning goals for the concepts I’ve selected (for students to…learn the words? …access their meaning quickly as they are reading so they don’t get bogged down? learn strategies for learning words?…)? 5. Am I telling students too much content? Is there more they could figure out on their own if I gave them the chance during the investigation? 6. In order for students to undertake the investigation what do they need to have or understand?

Metacognitive Guideposts for the Lesson Launch

Frequently asked Questions about the Lesson Launch: 1. Every teacher in my school begins their teaching with a “Do-Now”-- a five-m inute activity that asks students to work independently as a way to help them settle into a learning m ind-set. How would this fit with the lesson launch? There is no inherent conflict between the FEI’s Lesson Launch and the use of a “DoNow;” however there are two challenges: The first is ensuring that the “Do-Now” truly acts as a springboard into the day’s learning, rather than as a stand-alone activity. The second challenge associated with using “Do-Nows” is the difficulty in creating meaningful activities that are truly limited to five-minutes. This second issue is one that many teachers struggle with as they discover that loosely planned “Do-Nows” easily stretch into fifteen minute activities, making it difficult to move on to the other segments of the lesson. Within our network, teachers have found that brief anticipatory activities often work very well, as do activities that ask students to engage with the lesson’s big ideas by making predications, brainstorming, or deconstructing key terms using back-ground knowledge of root words, pre-fixes and suffixes. Because of the need to use time effectively, it is rare that teachers would use the “Do-Now” to review homework or the previous day’s learning. The exception to this is when the “Do-Now” is structured to ask students to re-access what they’ve learned in order to use it in the upcoming investigation. 2. W hat’s the difference between a “read-aloud/think-aloud” and a lecture?...and W here do m y lectures fit in? While a lecture focuses on transferring a body of content and skill knowledge from the teacher to the students, the “read-aloud/think-aloud” emphasizes providing students with the strategic tools they need in order to independently investigate a new information or a set of ideas, by reading, analyzing images, thinking alone and with their peers, listening to audio files, and watching video. While the “read-

aloud/think-aloud” allows students to see how anyone can make meaning of text, the lecture format shows students the meaning that the teacher has already made. Within FEI classrooms lectures are fairly rare, for a number of reasons: a. Research on passive learning clearly reveals it as one of the least effective teaching practices (reportedly, our brain only remembers 10% of what it hears in lectures6); b. There are very few teachers who can create lectures that can compete with the incredible array of rich materials that are now available through mixedmedia text sets; c. Given the brevity of most high school class periods, most of the teachers we work with find that teaching students how to use learning strategies to think about ideas ultimately takes priority over transmitting information to them— something students can do on their own during the investigation period if provided with the appropriate strategies (interactive modeling allows students to take in close to 50% of what they hear7). 3. I cannot find a way to make my lesson launch shorter than 20 mins. Our periods are only 45 minutes long, so this doesn’t leave very much tim e for investigation and synthesis. W hat am I doing wrong? Teachers within the LAC Project have found that is virtually impossible to regularly complete a full FEI-lesson within a 45-minute period. In order to address this, some transfer schools have experimented by adopting a block-schedule, with periods that are 60-90 minutes long. In schools where this structural adaptation has not occurred, we have worked with teachers to adapt the lesson structure so that material is taught over a 2-day period. In both cases, the total amount of time spent on the launch is approximately 20% of the teaching time. When the FEI lesson is stretched over a 2-day period, the first day often emphasizes the launch, with a bit of time for investigation and synthesis, while the second day begins with a much briefer launch, continues the investigation, and provides ample time for students to synthesize what they have learned.

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